SF Nov 2019 Election Endorsements / Analysis

TL;DR: the endorsements

  • Mayor: London Breed

#1 most important thing: actually vote

Submitting even an empty ballot is better than none at all, so that you count your demographic among overall voter turnout. You can register to vote here until October 21, and you can easily sign up for a mail-in ballot at that time. After Oct 21, you still can vote at City Hall (details).

California voting patterns by age. source: kqed

Young people don’t vote. That’s barely an exaggeration; look at this data from 2014: in California, those 24 and under voted at less than one-fifth the rate of those 65 and over. Adjusted for remaining life-years, that’s at least a 20x disparity! 2014 was a midterm, off-year election. 2019 is an off-off-year election, so the disparity will be even greater.

By submitting your ballot, you’ll help fix this imbalance.

One last argument for voting: if you don’t like how San Francisco is run, or you don’t like China’s political system, or you don’t like the current president, be consistent with those ideals and vote.

Candidates

Mayor: London Breed

Forecast: London Breed, 95% probability (For each position, as a bit of context, I’ll give my forecasted winner and percentage confidence in that prediction.)

Breed is the current Mayor, and she’ll almost certainly be reelected given no serious opposition. Why you should like her: she’s been supportive of building more housing, both market rate and affordable; supporting infrastructure for biking and people, not just cars; and taking action on homelessness, including showing up and addressing a hostile audience at a meeting about a proposed temporary shelter, which was later approved.

Several positions are uncontested, and other than to lament the backroom deals that led to no competition for them, I will skip them here.

District 5 Supervisor: Vallie Brown

Forecast: Vallie Brown, 70% probability

District 5 covers Panhandle-Hayes-Dubose Park and surrounds.

I’ll largely outsource this one to SF YIMBY, the prohousing group. In short, Brown is way more pro-housing.

District Attorney

Mayor Breed’s shady move — on October 3, with a month before the election, the sitting DA, George Gascón, resigned; the next day, Mayor Breed appointed Suzy Loftus, one of the candidates running in the election, as the interim DA. The move was panned by city political figures as well as the ACLU for interfering in an election.

This apparently politically-motivated decision may backfire on Breed: Loftus will not be listed on the ballot as the incumbent, and those who are aware of this deal may be less likely to vote for Loftus, so overall this may hurt her rather than help her.

When asked about this move at a debate held at Manny’s on Oct 15, Loftus said she was surprised by Gascón’s decision to resign, but happy to step in when asked. She reiterated she stood by her decision to accept the appointment, saying it would have been a political calculation not to.

The candidates

Suzy Loftus: establishment center. Endorsed by the Mayor, 9 of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors [though not all as sole endorsements], the Chronicle, both CA U.S. Senators, and many other state officials.

Chesa Boudin: progressive¹ left. Endorsements include the 6 members of the progressive wing of the Board of Supervisors, Bernie’s group Our Revolution, several other liberal groups and unions. The most left-leaning candidate, Chesa would focus not on punishment but addressing racial disparities, rehabilitation, etc.

Worked for Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a translator, and wrote an article in 2009 supporting Chavez abolishing term limits for himself. I could not find Boudin disavowing his support for Chavez’s administration.

Leif Dautch: I was going to label him upstart center-left based on his debate remarks, but he was endorsed by the Deputy Sheriffs’ association and was close to being endorsed by the Police Officers Association (they pulled their endorsement, accusing him of making contradictory statements). You’d expect these two groups to endorse a right-leaning candidate. Also endorsed by a smattering of other political figures and groups.

Leif’s plans tend to be specific. For example, he has a goal of reducing car break-ins by 50% in his first term, by increasing the number of prosecutors assigned to car break-ins from 1 to 5.

Nancy Tung: maybe a smidge more right-leaning. Few endorsements. Was least impressive at the debate.

Several candidates at the debate cited management problems at the district attorney’s office. Of ~150 district attorneys, ~30% have recently left, and morale is low. It may be that ultimately the most needed trait would be management and leadership skills, rather than any specific political / policy goals. Given my lack of ability to evaluate management skills and the symbolic importance of the DA as a figurehead of the city’s approach on law enforcement, I’ll largely ignore this question.

My ranked candidate order

  1. Leif Dautch

I believe Boudin is too progressive given the rampant property crime in the city and his non-disavowed association with Chavez, so I put him in last place. I dinged Loftus heavily for participating in Mayor Breed’s scheme described above. I liked Dautch the best based on his debate appearance and website; he had specific plans and was pretty charismatic, so he bests Tung.

Disregarding Breed’s actions, Loftus would likely be my first choice, given her broad support and greater experience than Dautch, so I’m taking a symbolic stand here.

Forecast: Loftus 50% probability of winning, then Boudin 30%, Dautch 10%, Tung 10%

Member, Board of Education: Jenny Lam

Forecast: Jenny Lam 95% probability

Lam is running for reelection. The other two candidates appear to be running a protest campaign due to a choice by the school board to spend $600k to paint over a controversial mural, as covered by the Chronicle. Neither has any campaign website or appears to be running a serious campaign.

Propositions

SF’s voter guide has a very clear explanation of each proposition, including arguments for and against and endorsements, so I’ll omit these details and focus on my takes on each one.

Yes on Prop A: $600M for affordable housing

Forecast: 55% probability of passing (needs 2/3 support to pass)

$600M for 2.800 homes comes out to $200k / home, lower than most estimates I see for affordable housing. Perhaps some of the middle income / senior / teacher housing is only partially subsidized.

SF has 400k housing units, so this increases the housing stock by < 1%, and we are not going to be able to finance enough public housing to make an appreciable dent in the crisis, but regardless — sure; why not.

The cost seems not too high:~$20/yr/$100k of home value, largely borne by property owners.

No on Prop B: renaming a city department and adding identity requirements for commissioners

Forecast: 90% probability of passing

This is an obstinate No on a proposition that is almost meaningless and is almost certain to pass.

I think it’s unnecessary to enshrine in the city charter that there must be at least one veteran, one senior citizen, and once person with a disability on the commission. I don’t support outright identity-based quotas; in this case the Mayor could just appoint whoever they want to this commission, including commissioners of these identity groups.

Yes on Prop C: re-legalizing e-cigarettes

Forecast: 20% probability of passing

Currently, selling cigarettes is legal in SF while selling e-cigarettes is illegal, despite the fact that the former causes cancer and kills people while nicotine itself is a much less harmful, though addictive, substance.

Despite the fact that Juul is a distasteful company, and that e-cigs are new and have been addicting young people to nicotine, it does not make sense to outright ban them while more harmful cigarettes are still allowed to be sold.

There could also be adverse consequences such as: people starting to vape on the black market, getting potentially more dangerous bootleg products, or police resources being spent on prosecuting trivial crimes having to do with vape products.

Facing several other political and PR battles, Juul has pulled their support of the proposition, and combined with the widespread opposition among elected officials and health groups, this proposition will likely fail.

Yes on Prop D: rideshare tax

Forecast: 50% chance of passing

First, my quibbles: I don’t like penalizing rideshare over other personal car use. I would prefer as pure of a tax on vehicle miles driven as we can accomplish (to start, a congestion tax on entering the city via bridge or highway coupled with higher car registration fees) to discourage all driving equally.

Instead, this tax, though called a “congestion tax”, only affects ridesharing companies (and, perhaps optimistically given that it expires in 2045, driverless rideshare).

These hypothetical ideal policies notwithstanding, this tax seems better than nothing. It’s modest, and it’s set aside for improving bus service and bike/pedestrian safety (a cause I support).

Because it’s set aside for a specific purpose, it needs a 2/3 vote to pass (whereas tax increases which can be used for anything need only 50%) — the supervisors likely thought it was at least 16 percentage points more appealing to set aside the funds versus letting them be used for anything. Ideally, we could expand our political thinking: taxes to discourage bad things (driving, smoking, polluting) are desirable on their own terms regardless of what they’re used for. But I digress.

Yes on Prop E: more permissive zoning and review for affordable housing

Forecast: 75% chance of passing

This measure would allow affordable housing units and housing units for teachers to be built in more places, especially publicly-owned land, and takes some steps to expedite the review process.

It’s a watered-down version of the original proposal from Mayor Breed, which would have amended the city charter to allow these units to be built by-right, which would have more dramatically reduced the ability of random citizens to obstruct development.

Incidentally, the need for subsidized “teacher housing units” demonstrates the depths of the insanity of the housing market here; we should be building so many units that the market price goes down until middle class workers like teachers can afford housing close to where they work.

Ultimately, this measure still moves things in the right direction, and I support it.

No on Prop F: changing campaign finance rules

Forecast: 60% chance of passing

This measure sounds good and I suspect it will pass, but it’s opposed by both YIMBY Action (SF’s YIMBY political arm) and the SF Chronicle because it singles out housing developers, preventing those attempting to build housing from donating to candidates while ignoring other special interests like organized labor and community groups.

All political donations feel unseemly, but the bottom line is that continuing to allow political donations (which have strong existing disclosure requirements) from pro-housing interests is likely to have a positive effect on housing development, vs banning them.

I’m open to changing my mind; let me know if you have comments or differing opinions!

Addendum: prediction scoring

Here’s the results ordered by the percent confidence I had in my prediction. Instances in which I was wrong are bolded

  • 95% confidence: Mayor London Breed; BoE Member Jenny Lam
simple chart of how my predictions matched up to outcomes. For the four offices, I subtracted 0.5 from my pick’s final vote share for the margin, even though this doesn’t make as much sense for multiway races. Next time, I’ll also predict the vote outcome directly for more of a direct evaluation.

Footnotes

[1] In SF, the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party is less market-oriented, more focused on concerns for lower-income and racial minority groups, and against building housing or changing the character of the city.

commentary on housing and politics

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